Dr Antoinette Butler walks Dr David Walsh through the new €13 million Mullingar Medical Centre in county Westmeath. Mullingar’s new 5,000m2 primary care centre was the first healthcare property to have been opened by the Octopus Healthcare team. The project was developed by Ireland based Feasible Developments and funded by the MedicX Fund. The building has been let to the Health Service Executive, TUSLA, two local GP practices, in addition to a local pharmacist.
Dr Butler is originally from Athlone and graduated from Trinity College Dublin Medical School 1993. She is an academic and clinical tutor for UCD Medical School, a GP Trainer for the Midlands GP Training Scheme, a clinical tutor in contraception, and a member of the Irish College of General Practitioners. She became a principal partner of the practice in 2003 and has a number of special interest areas, including Women’s Health, Contraception and Care in Pregnancy, Care of the Elderly, Dermatology, Medical Education and Training, and Health Promotion and Screening.
What are the possible downsides that people are seeing in the community care centres that are emerging in Ireland?
I think what people are probably afraid of is proximity to the HSE, although it’s not a reality. General Practitioners tend to be very slow to change and embrace anything new.
I’d liken resistance to this kind of approach to General Practice to people saying that they don’t want to do Internet banking; it has happened and is going to continue on regardless.
When did you begin the process of shifting to centre-based care?
We were planning this for about 10 years; we got to build from the ground up, it’s like building your own dream home right from the beginning blank site; we were involved in every single plug socket.
Admittedly, it was a bit stressful trying to get everything perfect but I don’t know whether people appreciate how brilliant that is; for roughly the next 15 years everything is going to be as we want it to be.
We were 17 years in our other building and, as is often the case, there were just certain things you hated or that you wished were different, which is why this kind of facility is great for the staff.
An advantage for us was that we were already paperless, which meant that we were probably already ahead of ourselves before we had even started out.
What is also really terrific about this building is that, now that we have the space for it, we’re developing things we simply couldn’t fit in before. For example, if a patient has got an ECG (Electrocardiography), you have the blood pressure monitors available.
What other new facilities have been made available to you through this centre?
When you walk into this building as a new patient, one of the first things you do is step on the scales and that information goes immediately onto your chart.
Not only will this hopefully increase the general recording of this kind of patient information but it will also mean that, rather than each of us having weighing scales with potentially slightly different weights, we have one consistent one.
One big positive is the improvement in infection control here, say a patient is coming in with a urine sample, it’s a simple process of them coming in and placing it on a tray, which the nurse then carries away on the tray so that the sample itself doesn’t have to be touched directly.
We’re going to have Holter monitors, which we would never have had the space for before, and now we even have the set-up for minor surgery which wasn’t really fit for purpose in the last place.
There is still the chance for us to grow in further areas; we’ve made the arrangements and put the structures in for various things that we might not opt to put in for another 10 years. However, it’s nice to know that the option to expand is there, should we need it.
Most importantly, how have your patients been reacting to this shift in setting?
Our patients have been mostly absolutely delighted, some are understandably a bit cautious about such a change. A major plus that many have picked up on is that the sense of privacy they feel they have here when consulting with their GP is wonderful.
Dr Antoinette Butler sits at her desk